MOST EXCELLENT news from Dina Cappiello at the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency put hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold Tuesday, saying it wants to evaluate the projects’ impact on streams and wetlands.
The decision by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson targets a controversial practice that allows coal mining companies to dump waste from mountaintop mining into streams and wetlands.
It could delay 150-200 surface coal mines, including mountaintop removal operations, according to the EPA.
Those permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that has been criticized by environmental groups and has been sued for failing to thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of mountaintop removal.
Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot discharge rock, dirt and other debris into streams unless they can show that it will not cause permanent damage to waterways or the fish and other wildlife that live in them.
Last month, a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond, Va., overturned a lower court’s ruling that would have required the Corps to conduct more extensive reviews. The appeals court decision cleared the way for a backlog of permits that had been delayed until the lawsuit was resolved.
The EPA’s action on Tuesday leaves those permit requests in limbo a little longer.
The EPA said in a statement that it would be actively involved in the review of the long list of permits awaiting approval by the Corps, a signal that the agency under the Obama administration will exercise its oversight. The EPA has the authority to review and veto any permit issued by the Corps under the Clean Water Act, but under the Bush administration it did that rarely, environmentalists say.
The freeze only appears to apply to permits for new mines, and not those already in operation, but just the same — this is truly fantastic news for opponents of coal, the communities living near these mountains, and the environment in general. Happy Day! Purple Mountains Majesty! Yonder Mountain String Band! Rocky Mountain High! My Home is in the Blue Ridge Mountains!